Laws Governing Email

Email marketing has proven to be a cost effective and content rich direct marketing vehicle.  It holds the promise of sustainably developing new clients and enhancing customer loyalty.  It is wise to be cautious before entering into the world of email marketing or to review your procedures if you are already engaged in it as consequences for missteps can be severe.  Both federal law and internet self-regulation have established standards and impose penalties on companies that violate them.  The federal law known as CAN-SPAM was put in place in 2004 and it places requirements on the sending out of commercial emails and establishes federal penalties.  Perhaps more important are the informal standards established by the internet community to self-regulate above and beyond the requirements of federal law.

The federal statute is well summarized by the federal trade commission website.  The FTC summarizes the law by giving seven guidelines to follow.  The essence of the federal law is to stop pernicious and deceptive advertising.   So, make sure your content and subject lines are truthful; make sure your signature line reveals who you are; and allow for and honor any opt outs.  In short, be truthful and honor the recipients request to unsubscribe.  If you do not obey this law, the monetary penalties can be quite severe.

The informal standards set by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are actually more difficult to comply with and the penalties, if not more severe, are immediate.   First, the standards are not written down in a single available place so you have to learn about these standards some other way.   Second, the term SPAM as it is enforced in the internet community is an individually reported offense and anything can be labeled as such.  See that SPAM button at the top of your email inbox?  Anyone can report SPAM with that button, so SPAM on the internet is in the eye of the beholder.  If you get enough SPAM reports from your domain then your email will end up in SPAM filters.

If you use a third party email tool then the number of bounces you get may indicate that you are a spammer.   The consequences are that your email may slow down or be stopped altogether and your website domain cease to function.  All without notice!  Think of losing your website and email system without notice.  That could be devastating and certainly expensive.  In practical terms this informal law is quite hazardous.  The essential key to compliance is using only clean contact data that has been verified and vetted before you use in your mass email campaigns.

So, be aware of the two basic laws governing email and take precautions to comply.  The benefits of direct marketing via email are certainly worth the requisite due diligence for most companies.

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